From the Director: A Letter to the CREECA Community during Challenging Times

Ted Gerber, Director of CREECA

Dear friends of CREECA,

The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered the University of Wisconsin, as well as many businesses and organizations in our town, our country, and the entire globe. As we all face new, immediate, and major challenges, as well as an uncertain future, I believe it is helpful to take account of the various communities to which we belong, be they schools, community and volunteer groups, sports teams, religious organizations, social clubs, or informal networks of friends and colleagues. While it may not be possible for members of such communities to interact in person, that is only a temporary exigency. When this crisis ebbs, as it surely will at some point, we must strive to restore the vitality and energy that our communities provide us, which will help us recover.

CREECA is many things: an academic hub where knowledge and expertise about the region we cover are shared and developed, a sponsor of instruction in multiple foreign languages that would otherwise not be offered at UW, a source of funding for undergraduate and graduate students whose studies focus on the region, a host of a weekly lecture series and other special events that are open to the public, an institutional home for special initiatives such as the Wisconsin Russia Project, the Pushkin Summer Institute, and a range of outreach programs that enhance familiarity with the region among school teachers, students, and others, and a contributor to the UW library’s collection of regionally-relevant books, journals, and other resources.

But just now foremost in my mind is CREECA’s role as a community, a loosely-defined group of faculty, students, alumni, staff members, other university-based affiliates, and local residents who are united by our interest in Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia. Our community members come from different professions and academic disciplines. They are diverse in terms of age, national origin, and other traits. Some are highly involved in CREECA activities; others only take part occasionally. But we all share an enduring curiosity about the CREECA regions, fascination with their cultures and histories, and concern about their current economic, political, and social situations. I hope we all appreciate in some way how CREECA’s activities help to both stoke and slake that curiosity, fascination, and concern. And in so doing, they also bring us together, connect us in our mutual captivation with the region of the world we study. We may not always agree with one another—indeed, hopefully we will benefit from constructive and respectful debates about controversial topics. But the forces that unite us as a community are greater than those that might divide us.

Although CREECA has suspended its public activities, in compliance with current UW guidelines, I want all members of our community to know that CREECA is poised to launch again as much of its programming as possible as soon as the Covid-19 situation improves. I am deeply grateful to the CREECA staff for executing a smooth transition to working remotely. The CREECA office may be closed, but CREECA remains in business—as the very appearance of this newsletter demonstrates. CREECA-affiliated faculty are teaching their Spring semester courses online. Along with CREECA-affiliated graduate students, they continue to conduct their research on the region. Our planned public lectures have been postponed, not canceled: the invited speakers will share their research with you, just not when originally scheduled. We may have to scale back some programs and specific events planned for the summer and the fall, but we are actively working on alternative (electronic) means of holding meetings and events. We will deliver as much of our ambitious schedule as the situation (and technology) allows. And we will continue to think of new activities that address the interests of our community in the near and distant future. My tremendous confidence in CREECA’s office staff allows me to reassure you that the institutional supports for our community will emerge from the Covid-19 crisis as strong as ever. This, in turn, inspires me to venture that the CREECA community itself will not only endure this crisis but will come together in new and fulfilling ways.

May you all be safe and healthy,

Ted Gerber, Director of CREECA